It’s been a manic few weeks but a beautifully Austen-centric time! I spent the latter half of June back in England, my main purpose being to attend the annual Jane Austen Regency Week in Alton and Chawton in Hampshire. There will be more on this in the coming weeks, but for now, I want to share with you a very special experience from my trip – staying in one of Jane Austen’s former homes!
There are three places where Jane Austen lived for a reasonable amount of time: Steventon Rectory in Hampshire where she was born and spent the first 25 years of her life; 4 Sydney Place, Bath where she lived for around 4 years; and Chawton Cottage, Hampshire, where she spent most of the remaining 8 years of her life.
The Steventon Rectory known and loved by Jane Austen is long gone, demolished a few years after her death. All that remains is a large grassy field, a bed of nettles indicating the location of the well serving the house and the grassy slope down which Jane is said to have rolled as a child! It is a beautiful, peaceful place, and it is easy to imagine the scenery has changed little since the Austens lived there. You cannot, however, clamber over the hedge and pitch a tent on the spot where the house used to be and therefore claim to be sleeping where once Jane slept!
Chawton Cottage is now the Jane Austen House Museum, a beautifully preserved home and garden and nothing like a ‘museum’ in the true sense of the word. It is a welcoming place and when you visit you long to linger, whether in the charming rooms where Jane is all around you or in the pretty cottage garden where roses ramble over the old walls and you can easily imagine yourself back in the early 19th century. Despite the friendliness of the staff, however, I doubt you would be invited to spend the night there!
What, then, is a true fan of Jane Austen to do if one wishes to actually stay in a place where Jane once rested her head? Well, her main Bath residence is still standing, not a museum but a beautifully renovated house in this elegant city. Managed by Bath Boutique Stays, 4 Sydney Place can be rented as a holiday let either as an entire house for larger parties or as separate apartments. There are four one-bedroom apartments, one on each floor, and I was lucky enough to spend a couple of nights in one of them!
It is a light-filled house with beautifully preserved original features: ceiling roses, cornices, bell pulls, fireplaces and etched glass panels etc. However, do not fear this means you need to get your water from a well, bathe in front of the fire and hand-wash all your clothes! The apartments are all equipped with brand new modern kitchens and bathrooms with all the essential appliances!
Like many a Jane Austen fan on a trip to Bath, I have stood outside the door of No 4 Sydney Place to have my photo taken, smiling beneath the wall plaque declaring it as Jane Austen’s home. Never did I think I would ever cross the threshold, nor that I would spend two wonderful days and nights imagining the Austen family beside me in the front parlour, or out in the garden tending their plants and crops – for I am sure they would have had a small kitchen garden there. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity if you are ever in Bath – I highly recommend it!
Austen Variations News Round-Up
I am delighted to announce the final chapter of Lizzy Bennet’s Diary was posted on Sunday and can be found here. I would like to thank everyone who supported me during this ten-week story posting by commenting on the chapters and sharing and Tweeting the links every week.
We recently held a big Fund Raiser over at Austen Variations and managed to raise around £1,500 for the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton! The list of winners can be found here, and we hope to run a further fund-raiser in a few months’ time, so do keep an eye out. There are always some fabulous prizes available in exchange for a donation to an Austen-related good cause!
That’s it for today, but I will be back shortly to share my experiences at the Regency Week, where the fun included a Regency supper with dancing, a fabulous and entertaining session presented by Professor John Mullan, noted Austen scholar and presenter, a wonderful tour of locations associated with Jane Austen throughout Hampshire, including a detailed tour of Chawton Great House and author Abigail Reynolds and myself being interviewed live on local BBC Radio!